Wednesday, July 1, 2009
University of Dayton Family Law Prof Pamela Laufer-Ukeles contends the nanny of Michael Jackson's children ought to have a legal claim for visitation or custodial rights to the pop star's children, but Grace Rwaramba's status as a paid caregiver will likely squash any chance of that. Her article, "Money, Caregiving and Kinship: Should Paid Caretakers Be Allowed to Obtain De Facto Parental Status?" published in the spring edition of the Missouri Law Review and available at SSRN, explains that state laws and the American Law Institute principles almost always exclude caretakers who receive compensation — foster parents, paid childcare providers and surrogate mothers — from the categories of psychological parents or de facto parents to whom courts may grant such rights. Her article contends that paid childcare providers should not automatically be disqualified from obtaining custodial rights in certain cases.
"Had Rwaramba been unpaid, or Jackson's live-in girlfriend or domestic partner of 10 years, she would have a good case for custody. But, add in some financial compensation and she becomes irrelevant," Laufer-Ukeles said. "This is despite everyone's acknowledgement that Rwaramba loves the children, has raised them their whole lives and is the only mother figure they know. The children have no relationship with their legal mother and their grandmother is almost 80 years old and not in the prime of her life to care for young children." Yet, as a paid nanny, the value of her bond with the children and her status as a functional caregiver, become legally irrelevant. This case is an excellent example of how society's disdain for paid caregivers hurts children." Her article cites some attempts by paid or unpaid caregivers, but all of those failed. She argues that excluding those who receive compensation for the care they give denigrates the value of care given by paid caregivers, misjudges the strength of the psychological bond between paid caregivers and children and discriminates against the poor and racial minorities. Although Laufer-Ukeles believes Rwaramba should receive some consideration as a de facto parent, her prediction is that Rwaramba and Michael Jackson's mother, Katherine, who now has temporary custody, would likely lose out to Debbie Rowe, mother to Michael Jackson's two oldest children, if Rowe chooses to pursue custody.